Blake Ewing wouldn't mind taking credit for a recent healthy increase in the city of Tulsa's sales tax receipts.
"I would love to," he said, laughing. "But I think Christmas was going to be good anyway."
The city's sales tax revenue for the period from the middle of November to the middle of December -- a good part of the holiday shopping season -- was 5.9 percent higher, or nearly $1 million more, than the same period a year earlier. That was good news for the city's budget, and it was good news for Ewing, who serves as the chairman of a city task force that is assisting with Shop Tulsa, a citywide initiative started last year by the City Council to educate residents on the positive economic impact of spending their money inside the city limits. Most of the money for the city's general fund comes from sales tax revenue, so the more money Tulsa residents spend inside the city limits, the more money there is for public safety and other city services.
Ewing knows his group isn't the main reason for that increase, but he hopes it played some kind of role. The Blue Dome District entrepreneur -- his holdings include Joe Momma's Pizza, Boomtown Tees and The Max Retropub -- has been leading the task force for the past several months after the initial momentum behind the Shop Tulsa movement stalled.
"The City Council, with all due respect, was ill equipped to do this campaign," he said. "They don't have the manpower, the time or the creativity."
Ewing had taken a strong interest in the initiative when it was launched and believed he could do better. So he met with councilors Bill Christiansen and Maria Barnes and asked for permission to put together a task force to take it over. Ewing then brought aboard his own creative firm, Engine Room Communications, on a pro bono basis to reshape the campaign.
Christiansen said he welcomed Ewing's enthusiasm.
"We passed the baton to them, and they've done a very good job," he said.
The new effort went public the day after Thanksgiving with a Black Friday Party at the Blue Dome Diner. Ewing said hundreds of people attended the event, which featured live music, food and beverages, and thousands of dollars in door prizes donated by area merchants. The event provided Blake and other supporters of the movement the chance to drive home the point that when consumers were out doing their holiday shopping for the next several weeks, they should make sure their tax money stayed in Tulsa.
A good deal of local media coverage followed, leading Ewing to believe the campaign had at least some impact on the Christmas spending habits of Tulsans.
Ewing said that event was only the first of several that are planned for the coming months to remind Tulsans of that message. Similar Shop Tulsa events are slated for area malls and shopping districts, including Utica Square, Woodland Hills Malls and Tulsa Hills, and Ewing's Engine Room Communications is already at work planning promotion through window displays and social media.
Ewing said there are no benchmarks in place to measure the success of Shop Tulsa, aside from the city's sales tax receipts, and Ewing acknowledged that the reasons for the recent jump in those numbers probably has more to do with the recovering economy.
"I wish we had those metrics out there to determine the percentage of online sales (from which the city customarily does not receive sales tax), but I think it made a difference," he said. "There's a growing sentiment to buy local. And, if anything, we emboldened that sentiment. The more we figure into that, the better it is for all of us."
Christiansen added, "It's hard to gauge the impact, but the point of the whole program is that it helps the police and fire departments and all facets of city services. I have no way of knowing if it's been effective, but I say to you the campaign has been effective through the media."
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